Kids and Sleep: ‘Screen Time’ Hurts Dream Time

Study shows TV, phones, computers delay kids’ bedtime

child in bed playing video games

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It’s easy to assume that if your child is doing a sedentary activity, like watching TV or playing a video game, that he’s unwinding for bed.

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But not all sedentary activities are created equal. To help your child get a good night’s sleep, experts say avoid “screen time” – any time spent in front of TVs, computers, iPads and phones.

A recent study form the University of Auckland observed 2,000 children. Reseearchers found that television and other electronic gadgets were the children’s primary pre-bedtime activity of choice ninety minutes before bedtime. The study showed that kids spent one-third of the time in front of the tube – and those who went to bed later watched even more TV.

In addition to delaying bedtime, looking at any screen that is backlit – whether a TV, cell phone or iPad – can disrupt the body’s natural rhythms and suppress the release of melatonin, a hormone that regulates our natural sleeping and waking rhythms. In other words, the absence of light is the body’s cue to make melatonin. Without sufficient amounts of melatonin, we don’t feel sleepy.

Sleep needs vary

Jyoti Krishna, MD, Sleep Medicine Pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic, says it is common in most families to let kids watch some TV or play on a smart phone, but this just delays their bedtime.

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Preschool-age children need 10 to 12 hours of sleep, school-age children approximately 10 hours and preteens around 9 hours. Teens need 8 to 9 1/2 hours of sleep nightly.

Keep things ‘low’

Dr. Krishna says it’s important to prepare for sleep by winding down and creating the right environment for sleep, like establishing peaceful routines such as:

  • Tucking in your child
  • Reading bedtime stories
  • Encouraging your older kids to read for a bit before bed or spend time with them talking about the day

 He suggests creating a calming environment that invites sleep by keeping activity, noise and light “low.”

This means avoiding stimulating activities such as TV, video games, high energy music and aerobic activity. Before bedtime, keep things quiet or consider listening to soothing music. If you read a book, use a dim bedside light or you can even tell your child a story in the dark.

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